‘I Fell in Love With Art There’: As the San Francisco Art Institute Closes, 5 Distinguished Alumni R
The San Francisco Art Institute. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Last week, the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) announced that after the end of its current semester, it would suspend its degree programs, stop enrolling students, and close indefinitely, leaving open the possibility that the institution may never reopen.
In a letter sent to students, faculty, and staff, the school’s president, Gordon Knox, and board chair Pam Rorke Levy said they had tried to merge SFAI with a larger educational institution that could keep the art school intact and afloat, but discussions with potential suitors fell through as the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“At this time, it is unclear when instruction will resume, and in what form, pending our efforts to secure additional funding and potentially resume our talks with educational partners,” Knox and Levy wrote. Levy told the New York Times that the school’s total debt is roughly $19 million, a figure that will likely grow in the months to come.
For many, the news came as no surprise. The school, which is just a year away from celebrating its 150th anniversary, has struggled financially for years. Enrollment figures have dwindled over the past decade in the face of a growing student loan crisis in the US. The ballooning cost of living in the Bay Area have only exacerbated the problem.
But for decades, SFAI groomed some of the art world’s best talents. Its long list of notable alumni—including Annie Leibovitz, Paul McCarthy, and Kehinde Wiley—rivals that of other top schools around the world. We asked five of those distinguished alumni to reflect on their experiences at the Bay Area institution and to consider its legacy.
I attended [SFAI] from 1971 to 1973, graduating with a degree in painting.
I found that I had incredible freedom at SFAI and that the more I put into it, the more I would get out of it. Since hardly anyone used the library, I virtually had all the books I wanted to myself. Because I showed enthusiasm for drawing, different professors would let me sit in on their classes for free. I remember sometimes doing six hours of drawing per day. I simply fell in love with it. The school’s location was beautiful and the architecture of the original building is more than inspiring.
I was able to fall in love with art there—that’s what I remember the most.
At SFAI I was left to my own devices. Sometimes I would come home and cry after crits in Sam Tchakalian’s class. I am not sure if I would be an artist now if I had not taken the time and energy to be at SFAI during those years. It provided a haven—both heaven and hell—but it certainly formed a strong part of who I am today.